National Day of Prayer and Remembrance for Mariners and People of the Sea and Maritime Human Trafficking Information

In conjunction with the secular holiday National Maritime Day on May 23, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has announced that the U.S. Church will observe the annual National Day of Prayer and Remembrance for Mariners and People of the Sea. All are encouraged to pray for and remember all those “who are seafarers, fisherman, and those whose occupations require them to spend most of the year away from their families, in the high seas, and sometimes facing dangerous situations,” remarked Bishop J. Kevin Boland.

As 90% of the world’s goods are transported by sea and the waterways, it is important to remember the 1.2. million seafarers worldwide that make this possible. In addition to praying for and remembering them, we must also be aware of the harsh conditions and danger that they sometimes face.

According to the Coalition of Catholic Organizations Against Human Trafficking (CCOAHT):

modern slavery at sea […] occurs at all stages  of the seafood supply chain, from catching the fish to processing and shipping it for export. The virtually unregulated fishing industry in many countries, coupled with the global demand for cheap seafood, create the lawless condition under which trafficking at sea flourishes.

CCOAHT reports that trafficked workers are subject to extremely long work-days, hazardous conditions, starvation, disregard for medical needs and injuries, beatings, torture, and even killings. Workers can be lured into modern slavery “by false promises of living-wage and incur crippling debts that then become their trafficking situation,” and migrants are especially vulnerable.

The National Day of Prayer and Remembrance will include special Masses on Friday, May 20 at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C. at 12:00 p.m. and on Saturday, May 21 at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in D.C. at 12:10 p.m.. In addition, on Sunday, May 22, pastors are encouraged to use the text for the Votive Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Star of the Sea.

Below are three ways to get involved:

  1. Learn practical ways of becoming an ethical consumer of seafood.
  2. Learn about and join USCCB’s Migration and Refugee Services’ anti-trafficking efforts.
  3. Donate or take action with Apostleship of the Sea, an Catholic charity that seeks to “provide practical and pastoral care to all seafarers, regardless of nationality, belief or race.”
  4. Pray with us:

Our Lady, Star of the Sea, Mother of God and our Mother, you know all the dangers of soul and body that threaten mariners. Protect your sons and daughters who work and travel on the waters of the world, and protect also their families that await their return. Star of the Sea, Mother of the Church, give light and strength to those chaplains and lay ministers who bring the love of your Divine Son among mariners. Fill their hearts with a supernatural and life-giving zeal for the apostolate. Star of the Sea, light shining in the darkness, be a guide to those who sail amid the storms and dangers of life. Enlighten the hearts of ardent disciples and bring us all to the safety of heaven’s port. Amen. – Apostleship of the Sea

How does your college or university engage with anti-maritime trafficking efforts? Let us know! 

University of Scranton is ‘In Solidarity with Syria’

Although a recent ACCU Peace and Justice blog post featured three Catholic colleges and universities’ response to the Syrian refugee crisis, many other Catholic colleges have been working to assist refugees and advocate on their behalf.

The University of Scranton has been strongly committed to aiding refugees abroad and in the U.S., advocating for peace and for greater acceptance of refugees into the U.S., and educating its students about the crisis and inspiring them to act.  The campus initiative In Solidarity with Syria seeks to combine advocacy and educational efforts.

President Kevin Quinn, SJ, wrote an editorial urging compassion for refugees in the Scranton Times-Tribune last fall.  He also wrote a letter to federal elected officials urging the U.S. government to address the refugee crisis.  He noted that the University was exploring how to help Syrian students interested in further education in the United States, as well as how to help refugee families that settle in the local community.

University alumni have also been extensively involved in the efforts to assist refugees. For example, Bill Canny ’77, H’07, as the executive director of Migration and Refugee Services at USCCB, has been working with DOS and the local Catholic Social Services to work towards doubling the 100,000 refugee ceiling that the government has set for 2017.

Another alumna, Elena Habersky ’13, has lived in Amman, Jordan, where she started teaching English as a Fulbright scholar and is now the program and administrative manager of Collateral Repair Project, a nongovernmental organization that helps refugees. Read about her experiences in her article “Bearing Witness: Stories from the Holy Land,” featured in America Magazine.

Finally, the university has been working hard to educate students on campus about the refugee crisis. Led by Anitra McShea, Ph.D., the vice provost for student formation and campus life, In Solidarity with Syria has taken off in various directions. The initiative has brought to the university activities such as The Refugee Simulation, in which participants walk through five stations that simulate the typical refugee experience. Students are then encouraged to learn about and work with refugees in the local community.

The University has also encouraged deeper academic and informal discussions on the refugee crisis and has implored its students, staff, and faculty to, as Dr. McShea puts it, “utilize [their] gifts, talents and collective resources (intellectual, fiscal) to serve those marginalized and persecuted in our global community.”

How has your college or university responded to the Syrian refugee crisis? Let us know! 

Welcoming the Stranger: Catholic Colleges Respond to the Syrian Refugee Crisis

Twelve million.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, that is the estimated number of people currently affected by the conflict in Syria. As Professor Neha Agarwal of La Roche College commented during a campus activity focused on the refugee crisis, “It’s easy for us to picture 100 of something, but wrapping our heads around a number as staggering as 12 million is very difficult.”

Helping people in the United States imagine the sheer magnitude of the problem is only the beginning of what Catholic colleges and universities such as La Roche are doing in response to the Syrian refugee crisis.

During the 2015–16 academic year, ACCU member institutions have demonstrated their deep commitment to welcoming the stranger and educating their students, faculty, and staff on the importance of doing so. One manifestation of this commitment can be found at Niagara University. In conjunction with Catholic Charities of Buffalo and New York’s Immigration and Refugee Assistance Services, the university’s College of Hospitality and Tourism Management recently graduated its third cohort of 15 students from a program specifically for refugees. The eight-week Hospitality and Tourism Training Institute trains participants in skills that help them “pave a sustainable career path,” says Niagara University president Rev. James J. Maher.

Deborah T. Curtis, CMP, director of Niagara’s Edward A. Brennan Center for Language, Culture and Leadership, has been the energy behind the program since its inception. Under her direction, the program has graduated 37 refugees—women and men from around the world, ranging in age from 19 to 60. The program consists of morning lessons in hospitality and afternoon English language courses, as well as excursions to local hotels and tourist attractions. The students also engage in a two-week internship at a partnering hotel, after which they are offered positions either at the internship site or another local hotel. The Institute helps the students combine their new skills in hospitality and in the English language to create “an opportunity to move up,” Curtis says. Because the students all come to the United States as refugees, she adds, “by definition . . . they’ve had some serious hardships.”

Niagara University’s Deborah Curtis poses with a cohort of refugee students at Niagara Falls. Photo courtesy of Niagara University.
Niagara University’s Deborah Curtis poses with a cohort of refugee students at Niagara Falls. Photo courtesy of Niagara University.

Picture This

Other Catholic colleges are doing what Catholic colleges do: educating students about issues and grounding them in faith-based values. Last November, the La Roche College Office of Global Engagement collaborated with the college’s Design Division to focus part of International Education Week on the Syrian refugee crisis. The Refugee Experience event also was incorporated into the La Roche Experience (LRX), a required course sequence that introduces students to Catholic principles of peace and justice, diversity, and conflict prevention.

Asking students to imagine an equivalent to 12 million was one activity during the week. After design students drew selected visual representations of 12 million on a large poster, participants engaged in small-group discussion on the refugee crisis. Finally, all participants strung together a chain of 12 million pre-counted beads, each representing one person affected by the Syrian conflict.

Agarwal, chair of the La Roche graphic design department, explains that the goal of the program was to “come up with several equivalents to 12 million and visualize them in order to help viewers really understand the enormity of the situation.”

In addition to helping La Roche students grasp the magnitude of the refugee crisis, the program allowed participants to process the situation, as the students “opened up and felt confident enough to share their thoughts” in the discussion groups, she says. “In line with the college’s mission to promote peace, justice, and global citizenry,” Agarwal adds, the Refugee Experience program at La Roche has grown out of a commitment to preparing the college community to more actively and knowledgeably welcome the stranger and serve its neighbors.

Change of Plans

After a month of what should have been a two-month backpacking trip in the Mediterranean, Colleen Sinsky, a recent graduate of Santa Clara University, did something unexpected.

Her trek had taken her to Lesvos, a small Greek island where Syrian refugees had been stopping on their perilous journey to Europe. Sinsky decided to leave her traveling companion and travel to Lesvos after noticing Syrian refugees sleeping under a bridge, according to a university news article.

For the remainder of her time in Europe, Sinsky volunteered with A Drop in the Ocean, a rescue group from Norway. According to the article, Sinsky spent her days “helping refugees off boats… manning a lookout tower for boats in distress; providing tea, warm clothing, and a compassionate ear to refugees in the camp; cleaning beaches of castoff belongings,” and more.

After returning home, her experience in Lesvos inspired Sinsky to write about the experiences of the refugees on a blog titled, “I’d Rather Be Here Now.” Her goal is to “advocate for a more compassionate refugee resettlement program in the [United States] by humanizing the victims” of the Syrian conflict, Sinsky writes. She credits her education at Santa Clara with helping her “better understand the problem of labeling, scapegoating, and demonizing Muslims” and allowing her writing to “come to life with details and drama.”

Looking forward, she says, “I would like to incorporate storytelling for social justice into whatever it is that I do.”

Her time at Santa Clara University clearly shaped Sinsky’s ability to share her experiences living with refugees. And, as all these examples show, Catholic higher education is uniquely positioned not only to change students’ thinking about humanitarian crises, but also to help improve the lives of individuals around the globe.

Justine Worden is an undergraduate student at Georgetown University and the Peace and Justice Intern at the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities.

National Migration Week 2016

From January 3-9, 2016, the U.S. Bishops observe National Migration Week, calling special attention to the needs of migrants.  This year, the theme centers on the Gospel call to welcome the stranger among us.  In honor of the week, USCCB has shared several prayer and policy resources on the National Migration Week website.  Read more about the Catholic Church’s response to migration on the latest post to the To Go Forth blogTo Go Forth blog.

Catholic Higher Education: In Solidarity With Migrants

Mount Mercy University
Mount Mercy University students during their immersion trip to El Paso, Texas

With the 2016 U.S. presidential race already underway, candidates are discussing their ideas regarding the social, economic, and political issues facing America, many of which are of great concern to the Catholic Church. One of most prominent issues is immigration. Shortly after launching his presidential campaign in June 2015, for instance, Donald Trump made controversial statements about Mexican immigrants, characterizing them as drug dealers, criminals, and rapists, ending with, “Some, I assume, are good people.”

Such harsh statements about people who seek a better life in the United States come from an unfortunate public misconception and general lack of knowledge regarding the complexity of immigration. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops explains in Strangers No Longer Together on the Journey of Hope that the decision to migrate is strongly influenced by factors such as poverty, injustice, religious intolerance, and armed-conflict in other countries. The Catholic Church has spoken strongly regarding the importance of welcoming immigrants who pursue the American dream of safety, opportunity, stability, and freedom, while also working to address the root causes of migration.  Recognizing the need for reform of both political policies and individual hearts, Catholic higher education, along with the Catholic Church, provides students with the information and experiences to learn more about migration.

As the leader of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis frequently speaks about the importance of respectful treatment of migrants. In his message on the World Day of Migrants and Refugees in 2015, the pope asserted, “Often … migration gives rise to suspicion and hostility, even in ecclesial communities, prior to any knowledge of the migrants’ lives or their stories of persecution and destitution. In such cases, suspicion and prejudice conflict with the biblical commandment of welcoming with respect and solidarity the stranger in need.” The Catholic Church affirms the importance of standing in solidarity with our brothers and sisters, regardless of immigration status, as we are all part of one human family, created in the image of God. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops explains in their public policy statement on immigration reform that we must welcome the foreigner and show respect for every person as part of their inherent human dignity, following Jesus’ prophetic proclamation, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me” (Mt 25:35).

Guided by Catholic Social Teaching, Catholic higher education stands in solidarity with migrants, educating students about the reasons why migration occurs and supporting communities through service and advocacy for immigration reform.  Catholic colleges and universities have undertaken activities to support immigrants and immigration reform such as establishing scholarships for students from immigrant backgrounds, welcoming undocumented immigrant students, and promoting educational opportunities for students to encounter the experience of migrants and the difficult journey they face. One example of a powerful educational opportunity is Cabrini College’s project titled, “#RefugeesSeekingSafety.”

Funded by the Global Solidarity Grants program sponsored by ACCU and Catholic Relief Services, the #RefugeesSeekingSafety project led participants through an innovative 25-minute simulation of the experience of unaccompanied minors fleeing from violence in Central America by coming to the United States. The simulation was originally designed by a freshman social justice course, “Our Interdependent World.” The grant from ACCU and CRS helped students from the class, Cabrini Catholic Relief Services Ambassadors, and members of the Cabrini Mission Corps edit and expand the draft of the simulation and create a website to promote and share the simulation. The students debuted the final simulation in spring 2015, when more than 75 participants got a glimpse of the situations and options that minors face at the U.S.-Mexico border. The group reflected on the root causes of migration; learned about advocacy programs, ranging from social media tags to petitions to Congress; and gathered for a solidarity prayer-walk. These participants gained a better understanding of the issues that refugees seeking safety face and learned how they can support change and take action on immigration reform.

Similar to this Cabrini program, another example of a powerful educational opportunity is Mount Mercy University’s project, “Standing in Solidarity with Migrants.” Also funded by the Global Solidarity Grants program, this project engaged students, faculty, and the community in educational opportunities to learn, reflect, and take action on immigration issues. First, Sr. Kathleen Erickson, RSM, spoke about her personal experiences with immigration, both as an assistant at a center for immigrant women and as an immersion coordinator. The lecture helped students understand the causes and effects of migration. The following day, the community came together to pray for migrants in an interfaith service and participated in a workshop to reflect on their experiences. The group wrote letters to their representatives advocating for comprehensive immigration reform centered on the fair and just treatment of humans. Lastly, staff, faculty, and students were given the opportunity to experience the lives of migrants through a four-day immersion trip to the U.S.-Mexico Border in El Paso, TX. While staying in a migrant shelter, participants discussed immigration with U.S. Border Patrol representatives, listened to stories of migrants and refugees, met with human rights activists, and visited historical and cultural sites. The four-day immersion trip to El Paso brought together faith, reflection, and action, connecting the complex discussion of immigration to the participants’ spiritual beliefs.

Prior to experiencing either of these initiatives, many of the participants had little to no knowledge about migration. At the completion of these projects, participants had gained invaluable insights, grown spiritually, and developed skills to advocate for solidarity. Both institutions plan to continue their advocacy for migrants. Cabrini College designed a website to share the simulation experience with other students, campuses, and the public to inform them on the perilous journey that refugees face. The #RefugeesSeekingSafety website is also intended to broaden the opportunity for visitors to recreate the experience, learn how to advocate, and take action on immigration reform.

Mount Mercy student Katelyn Bishop explains that after participating in her university’s project, her “eyes are opened to the harsh reality that many immigrants face in the world today.”  The Mount Mercy Social Justice Club, a student group, plans to continue advocating for solidarity and educating fellow students on the topic of immigration next year. Upon returning from the immersion trip to El Paso, Mount Mercy student Abby Herd reflected on her life-changing experience and her plans to continue advocating for immigrants: “I am raising my voice for the thousands that can’t, the thousands of people suffering, the thousands of people that are dying because of a fence that cages people in. I am a voice for the voiceless. Will you be?”

Kathryn Roarty is a 2015 graduate of Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Maryland.  She interned with ACCU in summer 2015.

Resource: Toolkit for Advocating for the Rights of Unaccompanied Children

toolkit_for_advocating_for_rights_of_unaccompanied_children_image-1-244x300The Ignatian Solidarity Network released a toolkit to enable individuals at universities, high schools, parishes and other ministries to engage their faith congregation or campus, government representatives and local community members in the issue from a faith-based perspective grounded in human dignity.

The toolkit, titled “The Kingdom of Heaven Belongs to Such As These” can be found here.

Resources: Bridging Refugee Youth and Children’s Services

Bridging Refugee Youth and Children’s Services shares several resources to support refugee and immigrant children and families, including a new video from USCCB titled “Unaccompanied Children” which provides an overview of Migration and Refugee Services, one of two agencies authorized by the U.S. Department of State to help children who enter the United States without a legal guardian.  Find several other resources including publications, events and grants here from BRYCS

Bridging Refugee Youth and Children’s Services (BRYCS) is a project of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops/Migration and Refugee Services (USCCB/MRS).  BRYCS maintains the nation’s largest online collection of resources related to refugee and immigrant children and families.

Humanitarian Responses to Children Refugees

The Franciscan Action Network shares stories and resources about the refugee crisis in Central America. The Jesuit Refugee Service/USA and US Jesuit Conference researched the migration trends over the last decade and put together the following video explaining what is driving people to flee for their lives:

The Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities in Syracuse, NY also released a statement of their “complete support of humanitarian efforts to assist  children entering the United States from Central America.” Read the full statement here.

Video on Immigration and the Catholic Church

Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor: Immigration and the Catholic Church is a video by USCCB Migration and Refugee Services that highlights the Church’s long history of pastoral care for immigrants and advocacy on immigration issues. Share the video to help Catholics and non-Catholics alike become informed about the Church’s important work in these areas.